Android 3.1 Honeycomb

Last week I picked up, after much anticipation an Asus Transformer Tablet, running Google’s newly minted Android 3.1 Honeycomb operating system. I’m in the fortunate position that I can compare and contrast this directly against Apple’s iPad 1, which I’ve had access too for the past 12 months.
Hardware: Asus Transformer TF101 16Gb

Operating System: Google Android 3.1 Honeycomb (updated earlier this week)

I didn’t bother with the keyboard dock, as after some discussion with a colleague, decided that considering I have a Macbook Air, it just wasn’t warranted the extra weight/clunkiness of the keyboard. Right move. He also pointed out that 16Gb was a ALOT of space and that unless I put my entire music collection on there, I’d be pressed to fill the entire unit with Apps. He was right.

First Impressions: Hardware

Good. Surprisingly so. It’s refreshing to have something that’s a different colour than matt silver, matt black, shiny silver, shiny black or any variant of grey in between. The casing is made out of an anodised brown aluminium with a really nice tactile pattern embossed into the back, offering a bit of grip and slip resistance, as well as a distinguishing touch in its otherwise very good finish. The form factor is more Full HD 16:9 in ratio, supporting 1366 X 800 pixel screen resolution. Button wise, there is a Power button, which is very well designed and operates well and a volume toggle, which is less well designed and requires very accurate pressing of the switch. It’s a minor setback, but next to the iPad, you can’t help but compare how well Apple got that often used piece of kit, just right.

Along the bottom of the tablet is a series of 3 slots, with one of them being allocated to the USB Sync Cable and the other two on either side acting as the docking points for the keyboard dock (which I don’t have). These slots are milled out of the aluminium to such an extent that the edge they present around the slot is just a little bit too sharp. I’ve come close to cutting myself a couple of times on them – something to note for small fingers – I have a 3 year old son who has taken to using this tablet (as opposed to the iPad) with gusto. They edge of the slots really need to be brushed back smooth a touch. I expect over time due to day to day handling, that the slots will have the edge knocked off them as the unit undergoes daily use – but for user friendliness, it would be nice to have them finished at the factory, rather than my 3 years olds fingers. Just a small point.

First Impressions: Android Honeycomb Operating System

Excellent. Really excellent and a tribute to the Google guys in their endeavour to stretch the capability of the medium. The User Interface of any of the Google based Apps – Maps, Gmail, Contacts, is really fantastic, intuitive and extremely well laid out. I’m chuffed with how efficiently they have packaged things up, using good old fashioned english to describe functionality and show settings etc.

The “long tap” option of pressing on a clear space on the home screen allows access to a customisation menu. At first it seemed quite daunting, however once I navigated my way around the options, I was able to tailor each of the 5 screens to my own liking with the ability to section off app types into different areas according to their intent.

Suffice to say, I’ve put all the games for my 3 year old on its own screen. He happily navigates to that and plays connect the dots happily.

At all points, I’m comparing this to the iPad we also have at home. Whilst it is polished and well sorted, in terms of software and hardware, Honeycomb over time adapts more easily to the way you want to see and consume information, which ultimately makes it the more efficient and pleasant to use tablet experience. The ability to create widgets and little “portlet” views of your data streams makes a significant difference in how you interact with the system. Until you have them side by side, its difficult to describe this, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the ability to customise the interface in this way.

Overall, I’m very happy with the quality of the hardware and the Honeycomb OS, which for a first cut tablet dedicated operating, is great. I’ll cover in my next post, the slew of Apps I’ve downloaded and tried out and discuss a bit more the improvements and “wish list” items that I’d like to see in the next OS upgrade. Google isn’t resting on it’s laurels – in the couple of months that Honeycomb has been out, there have been a number of updates improving functionality and most importantly stability of the platform.

I’m looking forward to whats instore in the near future.